I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 8-15 August 2021

The History of Rome Episode 10: Barbarians at the Gate deals with the sack of Rome by the Gauls in 390AD. The Gauls besieged the Roman army in the Citadel, and in the end they had to pay their way out. It was the last invasion on Roman territory for 850 years. Episode 11: The Morning After The Gauls trashed the city so much that there was serious consideration of deserting Rome and settling in Veii instead (it was, after all, only 12 miles away and though deserted, still in good condition) but they decided to rebuild instead. They rebuilt in a hurry so that, even though the towns that Rome built throughout their Empire were to a standardized template, Rome itself was a hodge-podge. The Plebes and Patricians were still sparring with each other. The Plebes, saddled with debt from the reconstruction, forced through reforms in 367 BC that finally gave them access to the most powerful office of state: the Consulship. Then in Episode 12: The First Samnite War we have the Romans winning an inconclusive victory in a war against one of the surrounding hill tribes, the Samnites, in 343-341 BC. No sooner had the dust settled, in Episode 13: The Latin War, they are lured into fighting their Latin neighbors from 340-338 BC. This time they won more convincingly, and the Latin League was abolished. Episode 14 is in two parts as he breaks off to talk about military strategy. In Episode 14a A Phalanx with Joints, he notes that under Romulus, Roman armies just plunged headlong into battle. Then they adopted the Phalanx, a Greek strategy which worked well when you were fighting another army that had phalanxes on flat ground. However, with the Samnites, they were fighting on steep rocky ground, and the Samnites were able to get round the side of the phalanx, so they had to find another way. Episode 14b A Phalanx with Joints, they invented the Maniple formation, where they had long lines of soldiers, three deep. At the front were the young, inexperienced soldiers, then behind them veterans, and in the third line the seasoned, long-time soldiers.

Those Samnites didn’t lie down, and sure enough there was a Second Samnite War (Episode 15a). The Romans did well at first, but then they were handed a humiliating defeat at Caudine Forks. The fighting stopped for five years, and Rome emerged victorious in 304 AD (Episode 15b). During that five year hiatus Appius Claudius embarked on an infrastructure building spree that resulted in the Appian Way and the first aqueduct the Aqua Appia (not beyond a bit of branding, our Appius). He came from a prominent patrician family, and served as censor, consul and dictator. Finally in Episode 16 The Third Samnite War, Rome took on the combined army of Samnites, Etruscans, Umbrians and Gauls. At Sentinum, the two sides fought the largest battle in Italian history up to that point. Once the Samnites and Etruscans were seen off, Rome turned its attention to the Greek city-states (Magna Graecia) on the Italian mainland. They appealed for help to Greece, and it came in the form of King Pyrrhus of Epirus. This was the first time that the Maniple faced a tradition Greek phalanx, and the first time that the Roman army encountered elephants in battle. Episode 17: Phyrric Victories goes through the various battles between Phyrrhus and the Roman army. Phyrrus won the battles, but decided that it wasn’t worth it and sailed home. In effect, all he did was show the Romans how to fight Greek-style.

Time for a video interlude I think. Episode 2 of the TV documentary the History of Rome (narrated by Peter Coyote) took me too far ahead, right up to Augustus. I only want to hang around in the 3rd century BC.

99% Invisible A lavishly illustrated cookbook, The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food was produced in 1939 by the Soviet government to develop a ‘Soviet’ cuisine as a unifying feature of Soviet nationalism, even though it bore very little resemblance to the food that was actually available. It was developed by Anastas Mikoyan, who Stalin had named to be the People’s Commissar of the Food Industry in the 1930s. He travelled to America to investigate their mass-food industry, and took advantage of the opportunity on his return to build factories that produced hamburgers, orange juice, canned food etc., naming many of the products after himself. The podcast finishes with an extract from another podcast describing the communal kitchens in Soviet Russia – no glossy photos there!

The Daily (New York Times) The Daily sometimes has a reading of articles that appear in the New York Times Magazine, as is the case with The Sunday Read: He Wants to Save Classics From Whiteness: Can The Field Survive? As you know, I’m churning my way through Mike Duncan’s History of Rome podcast series because I feel that there is something lacking in my knowledge of –what? history? the world? my culture? — through never having studied any Roman history at all. So it’s a good time to listen to this podcast about Dan-el Padilla Peralta, a Classics scholar himself from the Dominican Republic, who is really challenging the field of Classics over its links with White Supremacy. The podcast starts off with a conference in 2019, where after giving his presentation, Padilla Peralta was strongly challenged by an ‘independent scholar’ in the audience, Mary Frances Williams, who attacked him for his views and very directly in a personal sense- it must have been quite a conference. I found this podcast really interesting and challenging. I wonder how Mary Beard (my idol) responded to his views?

Travels Through Time. This podcast keeps adding to my list of TBR books. This time it features Colin Jones, talking about his recent book The Fall of Robespierre. In this episode The Fall of Maximilien Robespierre, Jones chooses 9 Thermidor, Year II in the Revolutionary Calendar (27-28 July 1794) when, after giving a speech in the Convention and then in the Jacobin Club, Robespierre goes home to sleep. The next day the Convention turns against him and he was captured and wounded by a gunshot that has never been entirely explained. By the following day he was beheaded.

Conversations (ABC) I’ve just finished reading Dale Kent’s The Best I Could Be (review coming soon). I was hoping that Richard Fidler would conduct this interview, but it was Sarah Kanowski who spent too much time on being regaled with anecdotes. It made me realize that I had read most of these in the book, and that they come over well as after-dinner-tales, which is pretty much how they did in the book too.

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